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September 2, 1999
US Scientists Feel Pessimistic About Ban On TIFR, BARC Scientists Being Lifted
A P Kamath in Washington
"In the age of electronic communication, trying to curtail dialog and interaction among researchers in fundamental science is like Canute asking that the sea be held back," Dr Paul D Grannis, said. "It cannot be done!"
He is among several scientists who have repeatedly urged the State Department to review the ban on physicists from India visiting "sensitive" American laboratories. Dr Grannis, a physicist and a driving force at the DZero experiment at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory at Chicago, decried the ban imposed on many scientists from India and Pakistan by the Clinton Administration in the wake of nuclear tests by both nations.
"The ban is counterproductive to the US aim to promote industrial growth in emerging nations," he said. "They are damaging to the reputation of the US as a center for culture and free dialog."
Citing the usefulness of scientists from the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre -- both located in Bombay -- to US scientific establishments at Fermi and the Brookhaven National Laboratory, he told a high-level conference that Indian scientists involved with research at Fermi and Brookhaven were doing non-basic research at their home institutions.
Even as he called for lifting the ban, he felt the State Department was not in a mood to listen, following the flap over the alleged nuclear spying by China at American laboratories.
Dr Grannis was one of the key speakers at the conference on scientific freedom and national security organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
DZero is a house-sized detector that sifts the debris of subatomic collision for clues to the behavior of matter.
"I am not particularly optimistic that the State Department will modify their sanctions on Indian and Pakistani collaborations with the US," he said. "We have sent them two letters requesting change in the policy, and have had quite definite response that they do not wish to remove the Tata Institute from their list." On June 16, Gary Usery, the State Department's country director for India, said both TIFR and the Department of Atomic Energy "clearly belong" to the list of sanctioned institutions.
But Dr Grannis said his organization would try to change the mindset of Congress. "Taking the issue to Congress was discussed, but I am not sure what plans will finally be made, " he said. "Individual approaches to one's own Congressman are often effective, and we should try that as well."
He said legitimate concern for national security need not be confused with banning non-defense work by foreign scientists at American institutions. "In formulating the case against restrictions for collaboration in basic science, we must not lose sight of the legitimate concerns for the security of our nation, or our desire to halt the dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons," he elaborated.
"However, we must also continue to point out the clear distinction between basic scientific research and directed weapons-related work. This requires effort on our part to assure those in the government who make policy that frontline research on the constituents of matter, or on genome mapping, does not constitute a threat to our security just because the words 'subnuclear forces'' or 'genetic code' appear in the language of those endeavors."
He said TIFR scientists have contributed $ 500,000 worth of particle detector equipment for inclusion in an upgraded DZero experiment. But they cannot join the experiment because of the ban. At Brookhaven, BARC has contributed about $ 350,000 worth of equipment for PHENIX experiment. PHENIX is a large detector that will sort through the debris from high-energy collisions at the iron collider. About 15 scientists from India were involved in the experiment. The experiment will begin towards the end of this year.
Thomas Ludlum, an associate director of the project, said the ban was a "sore point." "People feel bad there can't be this coming and going."
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